Biblical Stumbling Blocks

  America recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Gulf War victory over Iraq. The commemoration reminded me of one of the war's more heartwarming scenes: the sight of American soldiers handing out cartons of milk to Iraqi children -- the offspring of their vanquished enemies. The sight made Americans proud. But for some people, it was a reminder of a thorny question about the nature of God. How, they wonder, could the God of the Bible command Israelite soldiers to slaughter the children of their enemies? For many people, the idea that a loving God would do such an apparently wicked thing is a stumbling block to faith. It was a question that so much nagged at journalist and author Lee Strobel that he went to theologian Norman Geisler for some answers. In his new book, The Case for Faith, Strobel describes their conversation, and what he learned. Strobel reminded Geisler of all the times God commanded the Israelites to kill children. In Deuteronomy 7, for example, God commanded Israel to "totally destroy" the Canaanites and six other nations, and "show them no mercy." In Exodus, God ordered the execution of every Egyptian firstborn son. He also ordered Israel to destroy the Amalekites -- including women and children. Strobel asked, "Can people be expected to worship [God] if he orders innocent children to be slaughtered?" The answer, Geisler told him, is that God's character is absolutely holy; he must punish sin and rebellion. The Bible shows that the Amalekites were utterly depraved -- that their goal was to wipe out God's chosen people. So, God used the Israelites as his instrument of judgment. "But why did innocent children need to be destroyed?" Strobel asked. First, Geisler says, "God is sovereign over all of life and he has the right to take it if he wishes." Second, the fate of children throughout history has always been with their parents, for good or for ill. Third, given the violent and depraved nature of Amalekite culture, "there was no hope for these children." In a sense, Geisler added, "God's action was an act of mercy." Some Christians believe that a child who dies before the age of accountability goes to heaven. But, in any event, it is the prerogative of a merciful God to make that decision. And finally, the Amalekites were given plenty of time to repent, and they chose not to. God's holy nature demanded that he deal with their persistent evil. It was much the same with the Canaanites. These people practiced incest, bestiality, cultic prostitution, and child sacrifice. The Bible says their culture was so evil it nauseated God. He destroyed the Canaanites, but the righteous among them were saved. The point is, Geisler said, "Whoever repented, God has been willing to save." God also destroyed the Canaanites for a reason that will resonate with modern parents: God wanted Israel, Geisler said, to be "relatively free from the outside corruption that could have destroyed it like a cancer." Lee Strobel was satisfied by these answers, but he had seven other "hard" questions about God. Stay tuned for this special BreakPoint series based on Strobel's book, The Case for Faith. It will help you understand that, while God's actions may sometimes confound us, his holy character contains no contradictions. For further reference: Strobel, Lee. The Case for Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000.


Chuck Colson


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